Song of the Thin Man (1947)

2015 #19
Edward Buzzell | 83 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | U

Song of the Thin ManThe final film in the Thin Man series sees married detective duo Nick and Nora Charles (the ever-excellent William Powell and Myrna Loy) getting embroiled in the world of jazz musicians, after a friend’s fiancé is accused of murdering a band leader.

After the small-town detour of the previous film, Song sees the Charleses back in the more glamorous environs we associate with the series, all swanky apartments and floating casinos. That’s a big plus point for me, at least. The mystery is a particularly solid one, with a nice denouement that plays out slightly differently to the series’ regular formula. I was less keen on all the jazz hipster dialogue from the supporting cast. It’s played for laughs, leaving Nick and Nora as lost as the viewer, but gets tiresome. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I had no time for it.

An early-career Gloria Grahame is mostly wasted in a slight role, while trivia-spotters will enjoy a 10-year-old Dean “Quantum Leap” Stockwell as Nick Jr. Thankfully the kid isn’t allowed to dominate proceedings too much, though does lead to a bizarre sequence where Nick has flashbacks while about to smack his bottom. I’d say it sounds weirder written down than it plays in the film, but I’m not sure that’s true. More sadly, there’s too little of Asta for my taste.

Family of the Thin ManApparently Loy made it clear before filming began that this was to be the last Thin Man film. Somewhat odd, then, that it’s one of the few to end with an allusion to Nick continuing his detective work in the future, whereas normally he’s being dragged out of retirement each time and happy to return to it by the end (which we don’t believe, of course). Either way, it was probably a wise decision on the part of Mrs Charles, as the law of diminishing returns had kicked in by this point.

That said, after six instalments, it’s pleasurable to be able to say there’s no such thing as a bad Thin Man film. The earlier entries may be the very best, but every one has something fun to offer. This may be where the Thin Man’s song ended, but his melody lingers on even now.

3 out of 5

Read my reviews of all the Thin Man films on Thin Man Thursdays.

The Big Heat (1953)

2011 #8
Fritz Lang | 86 mins | TV | 15

The Big HeatFritz Lang is probably best remembered for the films he made in Germany; medium-defining classics like Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, Metropolis, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse and M — I’d certainly heard of him in the context of those films long before I realised he’d emigrated to America and produced several noirs — but now, I’m increasingly discovering his American output is nothing to be sniffed at.

The Big Heat is, I believe, considered one of the best. It’s also still rated 15, which feels unusual for an American film of this era (I have no statistical information if it is or not, but remember US films were still under the Production Code at this point), and though the BBFC provide no more details, once you’ve seen it you can see why.

It’s rather grim and very violent, to be blunt. Even if most of the violence is off screen, it’s still described in fair detail — and most of it’s against women too. Indeed, I think the only on-screen deaths are female. Lang adds intensity to this mix, a quiet sort of tension (though I feel there may’ve been room for even more of this). It becomes clear that this is a tale where anything could — and does — happen; where it is, for once, genuinely true that no one is safe. The plot’s fairly straightforward — no big reveals here — This photo is all kinds of winbut it does manage what might be described as twists in how far it’s willing to go — mainly, who gets killed and how.

The cast are excellent. Glenn Ford is a suitably square-jawed lead; Alexander Scourby a detestable gentleman-villain; Lee Marvin a truly brutal thug. The best part goes to Gloria Grahame however, in a role that moves from a ditzy minor broad to so much more. In the performance stakes, it’s certainly her film.

I think I have more affection for Ministry of Fear (it’s barmy, especially all that palaver with the cake), but as a straight, hard-edged noir, The Big Heat looks tough to beat.

4 out of 5

The Big Heat merited an honourable mention on my list of The Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.